I. What is Epistrophe?
Epistrophe (pronounced ih-pis-truh-fee) is when a certain phrase or word is repeated at the end of sentences or clauses that follow each other. This repetition creates a rhythm while emphasizing the repeated phrase. Epistrophe is also known as epiphora and antistrophe.
II. Examples of Epistrophe
Last week, he was just fine. Yesterday, he was just fine. And today, he was just fine.
Repetition of “he was just fine” serves to emphasize that the state of this person has not changed over time.
I’m tired of this job. I’m over this job. I’m done with this job!
Repetition of “this job” emphasizes that the job is the cause of the speaker’s frustration.
The award for best hair went to Josh. The award for most likely to succeed went to Josh. And the award for most charming? It went to Josh!
The repeated phrase “went to Josh” emphasizes Josh’s ability to win numerous awards.
III. The Importance of Using Epistrophe
Epistrophe is important in both everyday conversation and more formal speeches. Epistrophe is a simple but effective way of emphasizing a certain idea and is used often by speechmakers for this reason. It emphasizes certain ideas, arousing emotion in listeners and readers more than a simple sentence would otherwise. Because epistrophe also adds rhythm to a passage, it creates a more enjoyable and memorable phrase.
IV. Examples of Epistrophe in Speeches
Here are a few examples of epistrophe from famous speeches:
Should I be elected President, it would be my intention to ask the ablest men in the country to make whatever sacrifice is required to bring to the Government a ministry of the best talents available, men with a single-minded loyalty to the national interest, men who would regard public office as a public trust. For no government is better than the men who compose it, and I want the best, and we need the best, and we deserve the best.
In JFK’s speech, emphasis on “the best” serves to align Kennedy with the search for the best and the insistence upon having the best.
For a second example, consider the words of Barack Obama:
For when we have faced down impossible odds, when we’ve been told we’re not ready or that we shouldn’t try or that we can’t, generations of Americans have responded with a simple creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes, we can. Yes, we can. Yes, we can.
It was a creed written into the founding documents that declared the destiny of a nation: Yes, we can.
It was whispered by slaves and abolitionists as they blazed a trail towards freedom through the darkest of nights: Yes, we can.
It was sung by immigrants as they struck out from distant shores and pioneers who pushed westward against an unforgiving wilderness: Yes, we can.
It was the call of workers who organized, women who reached for the ballot, a president who chose the moon as our new frontier, and a king who took us to the mountaintop and pointed the way to the promised land: Yes, we can, to justice and equality.
Yes, we can, to opportunity and prosperity. Yes, we can heal this nation. Yes, we can repair this world. Yes, we can.
Perhaps the most modern practitioner of the epistrophe, President Barack Obama insisted on positivity and forward-thinking with what became a motto for his campaign and presidency.
V. Examples of Epistrophe in Pop Culture
Repetition creates rhythm and memorability. It reflects strong emotions ranging from anger to bliss.
‘Cause if you liked it then you should have put a ring on it
If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it
Don’t be mad once you see that he want it
If you liked it then you should’ve put a ring on it
The message in Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” is clear: if he wanted to be with her, he should have asked her to marry him. Repetition of “you should’ve put a ring on it” provides emphasis and rhythm.
You and I must make a pact, we must bring salvation back
Where there is love, I’ll be there
I’ll reach out my hand to you, I’ll have faith in all you do
Just call my name and I’ll be there
Mariah Carey promises “I’ll be there” in a soothing and kind refrain.
VI. Related Terms
Like epistrophe, anaphora involves the repetition of a select word or phrase in order to draw attention to it. Unlike epistrophe, anaphora is placed at the beginning of successive phrases. Here are a few examples of anaphora versus epistrophe:
First, imagine a friend is struggling with math.
Math is so frustrating, challenging, and boring!
In order to emphasize these qualities belong to math, repeat “math is”:
Sentence with Anaphora:
Math is so frustrating! Math is challenging! And math is boring!
To emphasize the same idea, repeat “math” as the answer to successive questions.
Sentence with Epistrophe:
What’s frustrating? Math. What’s challenging? Math! And what’s boring? Math!
A struggle with math is emphasized by repetition in both anaphora and epistrophe.
Symploce is the marriage of anaphora and epistrophe: a word or phrase is repeated at the beginning of successive phrases while a different word or phrase is repeated in similar forms at the end of each phrase. Here are a few examples of symploce:
- I’m upset because I’m exhausted. I’m upset because I’m tired of putting up with it.
- When you see someone being bullied, stand up for them. When you see someone bullying, stand up against them.
- If you need help, reach out. If you need a listener, speak out. If you need direction, look out.
VII. In Closing
Epistrophe proves that repetition works well to send a strong message. Whether used by frustrated friends or powerful politicians, repetition of key phrases at the end of successive sentences provides readers and listeners with a compelling and memorable experience.